Thursday, June 15, 2006

Hanging from the Golden Gate Bridge by the marble hook handle of my umbrella, I look dead in the eyes of the man who would steal credit for my life’s work. I hear a squawking seagull and I watch his sledgehammer come down sending shards of marble everywhere. I yell up at him: “Vasco would be ashamed of you!”

* * *

People always laugh when I say the three magic words.

“I’m an Explorer.”

They look again at me in my Foreigner tee and they say, “But man has already mapped the world.”

With my most wistful grin—a look reserved for non-Explorers—I say, “Oh.” I take in a deep breath and then sarcastically, “Have you really?”

When my archnemesis, Deutero da Gama, and I met ten years ago at Coronado’s Bar and Grill in East Hampton, he was still small-time—dealing mostly with Dirt-Lot Shortcuts and Service-Road Wormies (Wormholes).

Arrogance personified, he raised his glass and declared, “I’m doing the most important work in the Exploring field right now, and it’s Wormies.” I ripped the pipe out of my mouth.

“What about the ‘All-Oak Route’?” I protested.

“An impossible dream, you’re a fool! Why are you wasting your time?” He chortled to others at the table.

“You son of a bitch!”

Fortunately, they were able to pry my neck from the stranglehold known as “the DDG.” Three years later, my colleague and dear friend, Surly Francis Drake was not so fortunate.

As I tumble towards the San Francisco Bay, I think of how often I’ve used the term Dead End over the past decade. Working my way from Montauk to San Francisco—from Atlantic to Pacific—exclusively on Oak Streets, Oak Avenues, Oak Boulevards, and Oak Alleys. The idea of an all-Oak route across North America fascinated my brothers and me as children.

Four years ago in Tulsa, I excitedly told a middle-aged man at the Old Oak Place Pub that I had reached halfway point. He was laughing one moment and then stopped and a single tear rolled down his cheek and landed in his mug. Concerned but not wanting to pry, I handed him a tissue. What he said next gave me the strength to get off of what I’ve dubbed the Oak Peninsula of Boulder, Colorado.

“You’re a real goddamn explorer, huh? I thought you were just kiddin’.” We both started giggling uncontrollably for the next few minutes.

During my absence, da Gama had enjoyed mild success back in New York exploring the underground tunnels beneath the city. He claimed to have befriended a tribe of underground tunnel dwellers and was supposedly gaining knowledge of “unfathomable pedestrian routes”. That was how he put it in the media. When his primary sponsor, McSweeney’s Books, pulled funding for what they called “slightly palpable” results, da Gama left public life swearing to return with “the grandest exploration of our time.”

That was two years ago. A week ago, my assistant told me that that someone had broken into the Chamber of Maps, but nothing had been stolen; I should’ve known right then and there.

* * *

As I tumble, da Gama yells, “Say hello to the real Ferdinand Magellan for me!” I reach back and grab my grappling hook gun. I spread my arms so that my cape stabilizes my fall. Batman was a good costume choice this year. I fire the pointed hook at him. The hook pierces his chest like an arrow. The steel extender hooks spread over his back, like an umbrella, spraying da Gama’s blood all over some trick-or-treaters. That was for you, Francis.

Back up on the bridge, I’m apologizing to the mother of these kids and she angrily asks me my favorite question.

“What the hell do you do anyway?”

“Today, I’m the Caped Crusader eating a Milky Way. But the rest of the time … I’m an Explorer.”

“Mankind and has already mapped the world, jackass!”

“Oh. Have you really, bitch?”

Douglas Robert Dean is an aspiring amateur phrenologist and disc golfer in Portland, Oregon. Currently, he is in the blueprint stage of turning his living room into a dojo. His short fiction can be found at Dean’s Den.

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